After an hour of traipsing around Kelly Park, an Orange County Park north of Orlando, I’d about had it for the morning. 9 AM and 86*F. Blackflies swarming along the trails in the lush river bluff forest. And now, hordes of kids pouring off buses in the parking lot and streaming down to Rock Springs Run for a whirl down Florida’s best natural tubing run.
I got into my car and turned on the air conditioning to cool down a little. Decided since it was too hot for serious hiking, I’d scope out where the trail went near the campground by driving over there. And imagine my surprise when I looked into the woods, expecting a trail, and saw a bear.
Now this isn’t the first time I’ve seen a Florida black bear. They’ve ambled across roads in the Ocala National Forest in front of me, but it was always while I was in motion and without a camera ready. This bear, however, was taking his sweet time, turning over rotten logs and nosing through shrubs. Using my car as a blind – and, at the angle I was at, shooting with my Nikon D-80 through a partially-open passenger window from the driver’s side, I tried to capture a little bear action. Here’s the result.
The Wekiva River watershed – which includes Rock Springs Run, flowing out of a cliff in the park to form a clear, sand-bottomed stream – is one of the more likely places to see a Florida black bear. With a bevy of public lands abutting each other – Wekiwa Springs State Park, Lower Wekiva River Preserve, Rock Springs Run Reserve State Park, Seminole State Forest, and Kelly Park, plus some smaller lands – bears have plenty of space to roam. And roam they do.
This one was a little too close to the activity of children in the parking lot and campers in the campground. I mentioned that to the folks at the gate on the way out. Nuisance bears are a big problem in this area, too, given the crush of suburbia right up against bear habitat, with all those tasty dog food and cat food treats lingering outside homes with fresh green lawns. This bear looked pretty young, so hopefully he – or she – hadn’t gotten into those bad habits.
The good news for hikers: bear encounters aren’t too common in Florida, and there’s been no reports of bear attacks in our state. As a follow-up, I’ll get in touch with the folks at the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission and ask for their take on bear safety on the trail. Watch for the details in an upcoming article.